Using Waste Water in Agriculture

- Gaurav Saini    25-08-2016


A two- day National Dissemination Workshop was conducted by The Water, Land & Society programme at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE). The workshop was being organized to disseminate the outcomes from the recently concluded 4- year research project by ‘ATREE’ funded by IDRC Canada.

India, being the second most populated country in the world faces many problems. What exacerbates the situation is ‘Urbanization’. As more and more people are migrating, there is an increase in water demand. This forces us  to contemplate again on how we use ‘Waste Water’? As it brings so many questions which need to be answered the goal of this project was to understand the challenges for sustainable, efficient and fair water management. With  increasing water demand and rapidly transforming land use, the limited infrastructure results in hydrological, water quality and social changes.

The study project covered two river basins: the Arkavathy basin in Karnataka and the Noyyal basin in Tamil Nadu. In a two days workshop, the first technical discussion was on ‘Water quality in the Arkavathy sub basin’ The ATREE team presented some presentations followed by the comments from a panel consisting of Dr. Sekhar Muddu(Professor, Department of Civil Engineering, Indian Institute of Science), Dr. Vimal Mishra(IIT, Gandhinagar) and Dr. Himanshu Kulkarni ( Advanced Center for Water Resources Development and Management).

Seasonal river becomes perennial, imports of surface water increase, flows are highly polluted are some of the consequences due to large scale urbanization. The groundwater irrigated agriculture induces recharge from shallow to deep fracture aquifers, reduce base flow, and induce recharge from streams. The policy implications from two basins propose that low storage in deeper fractures suggests re-saturation is possible. Drip irrigation could be beneficial provided total extraction is maintained under control.

Another session covered “Farmer Responses to Urbanisation and Climate Change and water availability in Arkavathy sub-basin” followed by the panelists Dr. Kamal Vatta (Director, Columbia Water Center’s for International Projects Trust), Mr. K.J Joy (Secretary, Society for promoting Participative Ecosystem Management) and Dr. Vishal Narain(Ass. Professor, Management Development Institute) the two important research questions were, how have access to irrigation, sources of irrigation, irrigated area, and cropping pattern changed over time in the Arkavathy sub-basin? And what are the factors shaping crop choice, access to irrigation and choice of irrigation technology by farmers in the Arkavathy sub-basin?

There is a continuous look for trends in crops cultivated, in irrigations versus rain fed area within individual holdings, in sources of irrigation. According to data collected from 62 cultivators in 3 villages, the Sources of Irrigation (2013), 86% of cultivated area is irrigated. 66% of irrigated area is surface water irrigated.Questioning that can the current level of domestic consumption be sustained? It came out that “Marginalized households have to do more to cope with scarcity, though ultimately difference in (Domestic only) water consumption is not much”.

The major concern is how the rapid decline in groundwater is going to affect domestic water supply and consumption. Farmer’s response to water scarcity is mediocre. They have adopted water saving technologies, 12% of the irrigated farmers adopted drip. In a nutshell, significant changes occurred in cropping pattern. 68% farmers have access to irrigation – Decline in open wells and increase in bore wells. But there tends the need to promote wider adoption of water management technologies, training the farmers on crop choice, various water management technologies.

On the concluding day the high level panelists consisting of  Dr. Paul Appasamy (Honorary Professor, Madras School of Economics), Himanshu Kulkarni , Ajay Dixit and Dr. Dinesh Kumar (ExecutiveDirector, Institute for Resource Analysis and Policy (IRAP))  discussed on “Climate change adaptation policy under multiple stressors and multiple concerns”. Urbanization is a serious issue and here is no point in discussing whether it is a pull or push. Urban water use has been discussed several times. But most importantly, agriculture is not being pushed by somebody else but itself pushed by over exploitation of ground water. Dr. Paul said “Waste water is neglected most of the time and is being neglected from the last 30 to 40 years”.

Therefore climate change adaptation policy has tended to focus on planned adaptation interventions. Climate change no doubt affects the water sector.  Urbanisation is happening everywhere river basins like Arkavathy and Noyyal basin are also urbanizing and climate change adds to more severe issues. More and intense rainfall will change the pattern of these two river basins. Rivers are drying, but it is not only the climate change rather the human behavior which is affecting and hurting humans. Population growth, Pollution, urbanization is some of the reasons which affects the groundwater. The polluted water used by the farmers goes in the groundwater which infects the lakes.

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